Examining the offensive line issues

In a year in which the offensive line was looking to make a statement, after what was considered a subpar performance last year despite loads of talent, there still seems to be some issues up front. It's clear to see the line is struggling with missed assignments, mental breakdowns and poor technique. So what gives?

While the team was being solidified over fall camp, the offensive line seemed to take the longest to sort out. Much of that was placed at the foot of having a lot of talent and trying to get the best five of 18 players out on the field. But the results on the field have raised some questions, and it all starts with the quarterback of the offensive line: the center position.

"You know, Blair [Tushaus] has done a great job making the calls and that's not it at all," said Braden Hansen. "I think it's just little mistakes from everybody on the offensive line. Everybody's making mistakes, you know, missing blocking assignments, or just not being on the same page. As an offense we're trying to iron out those things this week. We're close and we're a good team and we can move the ball when we're on the same page."

"We haven't obviously been able to do what we've wanted to, and it starts up front with the o-line," said Braden Brown. "We've had some targeting issues and some execution issues and that has got to get cleared up. It's something we're going to work hard on as an offensive line so we can win football games."

So everyone is making mistakes such as missed blocking assignments, despite the fact that the calls from the center position are the right ones? There has to be more behind the issue.

"I think some of our issues up front are we've got some guys that are a little young this year," said Brown. "We've got some positions with some youth, and that's making guys play a little hesitant. The bottom line is we can't play hesitant and we can't question our assignment. We have to go hard and mash guys."

BYU's offensive line has three new starters this year, two of which are freshmen. Youth and a lack of confidence and experience have played a big part in the offensive line woes.

"I mean, it's tough, and there were points in the game where we couldn't even hear the call being made in the huddle, and so it already starts – people kind of getting freaked out," said Brown. "‘What's the call, what's the play?' Then we get to the line and sometimes we'll make an original call, and the defense will stunt and do a different alignment, and so we have to change the call. By that time the clock is already down to three or four seconds, so it's kind of panicky. All it takes in one guy hearing the wrong call and taking one step and blocking the wrong guy and the whole play is blown up."

During fall camp – and one can even go back to last spring when there were too few healthy linemen to hold scrimmages – there were too few live practices to further hone the position.

"You can't simulate live full-speed reps, and obviously you need those, especially as a young player," said Brown. "You need to kind of see what it's like at full speed live in a game type situation, and that's really hard to simulate even if you are going pads in practice. As far as practice goes from here, we're picking up the tempo, we're getting after it and we have a lot to prove."

"The offensive line is a different position that requires different things than any other position on the field," said Hansen. "The defensive line can play harder and because of that they can play better. The offensive line can't just play harder to play better because you have to have technique, footwork, and you have to have your hands in the right place. It takes a lot of skill mastery and mastery of skill."

On top of the lack of physical play during the offseason, there were a lot of players moving around from position to position. Position mastery is a topic that Coach Mendenhall overemphasizes on the defensive side of the ball for a reason. Is there a possibility that various players being moved from position to position watered down position mastery?

"It's tough because in camp I was playing guard and tackle, and [on Monday] I was playing center," said Hansen. "You would think that technique wouldn't be different from position to position, but in reality it's a lot different and it's huge. But there's no excuses, we're coming together and getting ready for Hawaii."

If Hansen, who is a senior, understands the difficulty, then it has to affect in some way the younger players getting their feet wet. Houston Reynolds once mentioned that he would prefer to hone his skills at one position.

Then you add crowd noise, confusion and the difficulty of being able to echo the calls down the line, and it becomes a recipe for disaster.

"It starts with the center's call and when it's loud, and the clock is running out, it's hard to make calls and hear calls and echo it down the line," said Brown. "Guys get confused and don't hear the right thing, and so all it takes is one misstep or one missed assignment to blow a whole play up. We have to do a much better job of getting up to the line, getting set up, let our center make calls and then go from there knowing the assignment and going from there.

"We still have a lot to prove up front. Like I said, I feel like we've let the team down these past few weeks, and that's not the kind of performance we want to put out on the field. That's not the kind of thing we want the rest of our team to see, so we have a lot to make up for and we have a lot to prove up front."

Now that the team is in the midst of the season, it becomes a situation of learning from their mistakes.

"We have to learn from the mistakes of the last two games and move forward," said Brown. "We have to go forward with a mindset that what's been done has been done. We just have to improve and get better each and every day."

So the Cougar offensive linemen are regrouping and moving forward.

"I thought Monday was one of our best practices we've ever had," said Brown. "Guys got after it and we had a lot of soul-searching this weekend. We had a good offensive line meeting with Coach Doman talking about mindset and what we have to do to change and I think we saw some of that out here at practice. The bottom line is, we've got to put it out on the field come game day.

"The good thing is I think the last couple of weeks it's come down to the wire. I feel like despite whether we played well or not, we did battle until the end. We did what we needed to put ourselves into a position to win two football games. Obviously we need to start the game more faster, we need to start more nasty and we need to push the front and keep the defense on their heels. But I do like the way we finished and I do like the way we fought to the end."

The offensive line better come together quickly, as there's still a lot of big games on the schedule ahead.

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